... In which our intrepid pilgrims leave home and comfort for foreign climes in search of Grace...
So Dom and I have just put Ant on her train back to University, and are sat on ours back to Cumbria. Dom is texting all her friends, and then proposing to settle down with a book for some quiet reading (and a sleep I dare guess) which gives me the opportunity to reflect - and blog on - the pilgrimage.
It has been a rich and eventful few days. The eventful aspect started after we'd met Ant in London, and were on the Underground to a friend's house, where we were staying the night before the start of the pilgrimage.
I was entertaining Ant by telling her how we had nearly left our passports at home when she went uncharactistically quiet and turned somewhat pale.
She had just realised that she had unpacked her passport, as she needed the details for her trip to Greece soon after our return, and had failed to re-pack it. It was in her bedroom back at University several hundred miles away.
So I texted Mrs T. from the tube, to get her on the case immediately. She managed to find a courier firm who would collect it from Ant's flatmates an d deliver it to our friends' house in London by 6 am - for a modest cost of just over £1,000 (!). We declined their kind offer and decided our best bet was for us to try and persuade the French that photo ID was all they really needed (if indeed they bothered to check the passports of everyone on the coach.)
We spent a pleasant evening with our friends (in between all the phone calls about passports etc...) and got up early next morning to go to the Cathedral.
There we met the rest of the British pilgrims for Mass in the crypt. It was good to meet all the others. Some were old friends from the North West and North East, others old friends from previous Chartres pilgrimages, and some were new acquaintances - rapidly to become friends.
The Mass (EF as were all the Masses on this pilgrimage) was beautiful.
The Cathedral always has a special place in my heart and our family history as it is where Mrs T and I got married some 28 years ago.
Then we got on the coach and set off for France. Driving through London, we passed the Tower, which I can never see without thinking of Sts John Fisher and Thomas More. Then out through the suburbs and through Kent towards Dover. I explained to Dom about Oast Houses as they are such a typical feature of the Kent countryside (incorrectly, initially, and having to correct myself as my memory caught up with my mouth...)
Meanwhile Ant was getting progressively more concerned as we approached the border control, and many prayers were going up for her. The contingency was simply her having to leave the coach and return to London to stay with friends for a few days... As ever on such occasions her emotions were exacerbated by that feeling of having done something truly idiotic.
As it happened, the French police had no interest in our passports at all, so next thing we knew we were on the ferry in the blazing sun, with the worry left behind with the white cliffs. In the meantime we had arranged for a courier to deliver the passport to Chartres in time for our departure on Tuesday, for the rather more modest fee of £54. Given the slackness of the French police, I was particularly gratified not to have taken out a second mortgage to pay the £1000 for the overnight delivery!
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, and we arrived at our hotel outside Paris in time for a trip to the supermarket for any forgotten provisions followed by a pizza outdoors at a local Italian Restaurant.
And then it started to get serious: alarms were set for 4.30 am, breakfast was at 5.00 and we were on the coach to travel into Paris by 5.30. That was because we had to be at Notre Dame de Paris in time to put our heavy bags and tents on the baggage lorries for transportation to the campsite, before going into the Cathedral for High Mass.
As with all logistical aspects of the pilgrimage, this has been developed over 30 years into a system that works pretty well: transporting kit for c.10,000 people so that they can find it reasonably easily at the end of the day requires some organisation.
The pilgrimage is organised by the regions of France, each allocated a colour. We march with Normandy, who are orange. However, we are also Etrangers (foreigners) which is black. So all our luggage was identified by two ribbons attached to each piece, one orange, and on black. It was then placed on the Etrangers lorry, and unloaded in a long line of Etrangers luggage at the other end, where we could seek it out.
Needless to say, some people don't understand the system, or have the ribbons, or know where the lorries are and so on, so there is always a lot of explaining and sorting out required on the Parvis (square) outside Notre Dame.
We also were delighted to meet our chaplain for our Chapter, Fr Mark Withoos, an Australian priest, currently working in the Vatican, and an old friend, both from previous pilgrimages and elsewhere.
Eventually all was sorted and we marched into Notre Dame for Mass, behind the various flags and banners of the British Chapters: The Union Flag, St Andrew's Saltire, Our Lady of Walsingham, St Alban and so on.
The High Mass was magnificent, and the sermon was on the theme of the Pilgrimage: The Family as the Cradle of Christianity.
Joseph Shaw has already posted pictures of this and others from the pilgrimage over at his blog.
And that feels like enough for the first instalment - in the next we will hear how our intrepid pilgrims coped (or failed to do so) with the first day's march.
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